PONTIAC, Mich. — The subject is Eight ball. Big Eight ball.
You know--that football conference. The one with Nebraska and Oklahoma in it. The one that gave us the Boz and I.M. Hipp and the Selmon brothers and Jarvis Redwine and more wishbones than Foghorn Leghorn has in his whole body. The Big Eight. The college conference with two major sports--football and spring football.
Hold on, though. Stop the clock. Technical foul. The Big Eight is big on basketball, too.
No, really. There might even be two Big Eight teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament's Final Four. Oklahoma happens to be the favored team in the Southeast Regional. And Kansas and Kansas State could meet in the championship game of the Midwest Regional.
No, really. Kansas or Kansas State could end up in Kansas City.
OK, so this is unlikely. Here at the Midwest Regional, where a doubleheader will be played tonight at the Pontiac Silverdome, the championship probably boils down to this: Will Perdue or Won't Purdue? Nobody would be surprised to see a Sunday final between Vanderbilt, led by the 7-foot senior center Perdue, and Purdue University, the regional's top-seeded team.
Yet, who knows? As Purdue forward Todd Mitchell said here Thursday: "Among the teams here are two teams trying to get back home. When you think that Kansas or Kansas State has a chance to play in the Final Four in their home state, that's extra motivation."
Right you are, Todd, although here's some extra motivation for you: Study harder in geography class. The Kansas and Kansas State campuses are situated in the state of Kansas. The Final Four will be conducted in Kansas City, Mo.
To get back to Kansas safely, these basketball players will have to do more than click the heels of their Pumas together three times while repeating: "There's no place like home." Larry Brown's injury-riddled Kansas Jayhawks already have lost 11 times this season, and Vanderbilt will be no picnic. Lon Kruger's overachieving Kansas State Wildcats, furthermore, must figure out Purdue, a team that all but killed KSU Dec. 20 at West Lafayette, Ind., 101-72.
A lot of people think Purdue has a pushover on its hands tonight.
"If you'd beaten us by 30 points, wouldn't you think so, too?" asked Kansas State senior forward Mitch Richmond.
One person who does not think so--who doesn't dare think so--is Gene Keady, Purdue's coach. For one thing, Keady knows better than to take basketball games for granted. Keady took charge of the Boilermakers in 1980, a couple of months after their Final Four appearance in Indianapolis. They haven't made it back since.
Also, Keady has no unkind words or thoughts for Kansas State, because that happens to be where he went to college. A native of Larned, Kan., Keady played football and baseball--not basketball--for Kansas State and, after a brief stay as a running back with pro football's Pittsburgh Steelers, he returned to KSU for his master's degree in education.
So, about tonight's game:
"I don't like playing someone I love," Keady said. "I don't want them taking our meal money away from us, though."
The coach of the Big Ten champion is quick to defend the honor of the Big Eight. Good basketball is played there, Keady contends, and always has been, ever since Dr. James Naismith nailed up that bottomless peach basket.
Don't forget, great basketball minds such as Adolph Rupp's, Dean Smith's, Eddie Sutton's and Ralph Miller's were first developed at Kansas high schools. Keady's and Kruger's, too.
And now, Kansas basketball is back in the news. Everything's up to date in time for Kansas City.
A KU-KSU regional final? OK, the coaches say.
Kruger: "We're pleased that Kansas is here along with us, and admire the job that Larry Brown has done. It drives home the point that the Big Eight is a good basketball conference, having three teams in the final 16 like this."
Brown: "I don't think anybody can judge the strength of a conference by what happens now. You do that by who gets into the NCAA tournament. And, I'm not surprised by what's happened. I felt we had a league deserving of five teams getting in."
Missouri and Iowa State also made the NCAA's round of 64, and, you know what they say. Five out of eight ain't bad.
Not wanting to look beyond tonight's regional semifinals, Kruger and Brown played down the possibility of meeting Sunday. If it happens, they said, great. They'll enjoy it. And, if one dies and one lives, the departed will root for the survivor. Absolutely.
That's not what Keady said.
"Are you kiddin' me?" the Purdue coach practically yelped. "They hate each other!
"If you're a Wildcat, it's tough to like a Jayhawk. If you're a Jayhawk, it's tough to like a Wildcat. I know, because I been cussed out by both of 'em. They like their own team, and nobody else's."